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Reflecting on the Past, Looking Toward the Future

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Holocaust Library and Resource Center Marks 20 Years

By Hilary Bentman

Three dozen videotapes are stacked in a cabinet or atop a table in the Holocaust Library and Resource Center at Albright College.

Each tape features a personal story of persecution and survival, of rescue or liberation, during one of the darkest chapters in human history. These tapes bear witness.

“It’s what makes the center pretty unique. People came to tell their story,” said Amanda Hornberger, coordinator of the Holocaust Resource Center (HRC) housed in Gingrich Library.

For years, the center, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary, has been collecting testimony from Berks-area residents who survived the Holocaust or helped liberate its victims. With each passing year, however, this generation’s numbers dwindle and these tapes have become survivors themselves.

But videos won’t last forever and now the center is planning to digitize the content.

Converting the tapes is but one step the HRC is taking to adapt to the passage of time and changing behaviors as it seeks to teach the lessons of the Holocaust to a new generation.

“Long term, we’re figuring out how to use social media, how to use Facebook and the website to build different audiences, to reach out to other groups, and ways to diversify,” said Hornberger, noting that the center is turning its attention to the experiences of survivors’ children and grandchildren, encouraging them to share their stories.

The HRC was established in 1993, opening just days before the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum was unveiled in Washington, D.C. A joint partnership between Albright and the Jewish Federation of Reading, the center is open to the public and includes more than 2,300 books, 300 videos, CDs, and DVDs, wartime artifacts, pictures and recorded testimonies.

The center is used by various groups, from Albright students studying the Holocaust or diversity issues to those interested in family history. The center sponsors workshops, seminars and lectures, provides educators with resources to teach the Holocaust and other modern genocides, and coordinates survivor visits to schools.

“I think that focusing on genocides and the factors that lead to them allows the HRC to teach Albright students about the fact that genocides can happen anywhere to nearly any group,” said Hornberger. “For example, although we view the Holocaust as a primarily Jewish event, homosexuals, gypsies, Jehovah Witnesses, mentally and physically handicapped, Communists and other political groups were also targeted by Hitler and the Nazis. Genocides in Rwanda, Armenia, Guatemala and Cambodia prove that genocide is not just a European phenomenon, but rather that deep prejudice and hatred can occur in any corner of the globe.”

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Tammy Mitgang, president of the Jewish Federation of Reading, credits the late Alma Lakin ’51, a former Federation president, and Dan Tannenbaum, who served as the center’s first coordinator, with getting the HRC off the ground.

Mitgang says the center continues to thrive because of the strong partnership between the Federation and Albright and the recognition on both sides of the need to teach people about the Holocaust and other genocides.

“It’s an important partnership,” said Mitgang. “The center benefits from the high academic standards of Albright College. And Albright benefits by having the center. It broadens the mission and says a lot about what the College believes in.”

Following the center’s establishment in 1993, Albright began offering a course on the Holocaust. Interest was so high that the College expanded its offerings and today has an interdisciplinary Holocaust Studies program.

To help mark the center’s 20th anniversary, an exhibit, Illuminations: The Art of Samuel Bak, will be on display at the Freedman Gallery from Aug. 29 through Sept. 29, 2013. The exhibition features 20 original works by artist and Holocaust survivor Samuel Bak.

A special 20th anniversary commemoration and lecture will be held on Sept. 9 featuring renowned Holocaust scholar Geoffrey Megargee of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Megargee will lecture on “The Universe of Nazi Camps and Ghettos.” He was one of the scholars who recently shocked the world with evidence that the ghetto and camp system was significantly larger than previously thought.

Megargee’s appearance is made possible by The Campus Outreach Lecture Program of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, supported by the generosity of the Jerome A. Yavitz Charitable Foundation, Inc. and Arlyn S. and Stephen H. Cypen.

As organizers reflect on the Holocaust Resource Center’s first 20 years, they are also looking toward the future, aiming to grow and expand the collection and its visibility. Hornberger hopes to work with different groups on campus, such as the Gay Straight Alliance, International Students’ Association and Hillel, for joint programming on diversity and genocide awareness.

And organizers remain committed to using the center to continue to educate subsequent generations about the constant risk of genocide.

“Having the center there is an ongoing reminder of the need to have the conversation,” said Mitgang.

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